It's time to go digital...

Lee Jones of NBS: "It's time to go digital or go home."

...says Lee Jones, Head of Manufacturer Solutions at NBS, an integrated global platform for everyone involved in the design, supply and construction of the built environment.

In March, the Government underlined its commitment to the construction sector with a raft of big-spend budget announcements, including a focus on housing and infrastructure, with the aim of 'building a better Britain'.

A construction surge will present a massive opportunity for building products manufacturers, including producers of natural and engineered stone. This programme of activity hangs in the balance due to the Covid-19 pandemic, although the need for communicating without travelling to the same place could even help move the construction industry towards the digital future.

Worryingly, of course, the pandemic may push smaller players over the edge in this low margin era, especially if they face payment delays. This is exacerbating challenges the sector is already facing. 

Before the pandemic the construction and manufacturing sectors were suffering from a shortage of skilled labour that is likely to continue due to the gradual loss of an ageing workforce.

The financial crisis of 2008 and poor education on career path merit has been a barrier to a generation of youngsters entering all areas of construction. If the Coronavirus shock persists, we must prevent this scenario from happening again, especially with the forthcoming changes to the visa system of immigration.

Looking ahead to when the country returns to whatever will constitute normal, climate change remains a priority, especially as the built environment produces 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint.

Across the sector manufacturers, designers, and contractors are all looking for more sustainable options. This starts with production – and there are many highly innovative solutions coming onto the market.

There are also other changes about to impact.

Cultural failings within the UK construction and building products industries have led to tragic and unnecessary losses of life. These shortcomings will result in legislation that will deliver simplified, but enhanced and stricter, building and fire safety regulations.

Manufacturers urgently need to take note and understand the implications of these coming changes.

New era, new rules

Back in February, Dame Judith Hackitt, the former Chair of the Health & Safety Executive Dame who chaired the Independent Review of Building Regulations & Fire Safety, stressed new regulation would be robust, leading to radical changes in culture and processes.

This will significantly impact the building products supply chain, prompting a total overhaul of everything from raw materials sourcing and production through to testing and specification. Something which has been re-affirmed by the publication of the intended reform on 2 April.

Product information will soon be provided digitally as a requirement, using a standardised approach to product data, including giving performance accreditation.

The term 'digital', by the way, means ‘machine readable data’ and not a reliance on PDFs. Data sharing will be driven by increased transparency.

Product stewardship will lie at the heart of the industry, and there should be less substitution and value engineering, with the focus moving from cost reduction to improving quality.

Manufacturers are likely to be concerned about the new regulatory framework. However, here are three key things you can do to prepare your company for the imminent regulation:

  • Standardised Product Information – Put yourself ahead of the curve by presenting construction product information in a standardised digital format. (Approach us at NBS for advice).
  • Digital-first – Like pretty much everyone, specifiers turn to Google for information (81%) yet 30% of manufacturers still present their information in a way that is difficult to find and digest. Having detailed technical information and possibly BIM models on your websites and professional digital platforms will make it easier for specifiers to choose your products.
  • Performance and third-party testing – Make sure all your testing is kept up-to-date and that your performance information is clearly presented.

Currently, there’s too much flexibility in construction material labelling and certification.

Some manufacturers invest large sums in certifying and testing their products and have robust quality control procedures. Their certification is hard-won. Others don’t bother, but still claim ‘accordance with...’. This looks likely to be stamped out by proposed Government regulation – and not before time.

Agile manufacturers who respond quickly by updating their methods and providing proper certification information in an easily digestible format will win.

It’s time to go digital or go home.

The roots of NBS, based in  Newcastle in the North-East of England, lie in the UK’s National Building Specification, which for nearly 50 years has been helping the construction industry build better and with lower risk. It sees its future in cloud-based technologies and connected data as it becomes the information platform for a global construction industry.